There has been a lot of excitement lately with the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccines lately, but I wanted to temper your enthusiasm thinking the pandemic is going to be over in a few weeks, and we can all hit the pub, drinking with our friends, family, and neighbors.
If anything, I would strongly recommend wearing a face mask across the world until a substantial number of people are vaccinated, and that may take a lot longer than you thought. By the way, more recent scientific evidence supports the FACT that when both individuals are masked, there is almost no transmission of viruses.
So, let me explain why, despite the good news, we still need to protect ourselves from the coronavirus. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but don’t be confused by the recent announcements by Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Moderna regarding their COVID-19 vaccines – there is still a lot of hard work to be done.
The Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna COVID-19 vaccines
Just for a little background here is a little background on each of the leading COVID-19 vaccines:
- Pfizer – this is an mRNA vaccine that relies upon an mRNA, or messenger RNA, molecule to be delivered to the cells of those who are vaccinated. It then travels to the ribosomes in the cell to produce the antigenic spike protein which induces an adaptive immune response to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. They recently announced that their vaccine was >90% effective in preventing COVID-19. The vaccine requires two doses (which means however many doses that are announced are available, you have to cut that in half). It also requires storage in supercold (-75ºC or -103º in barbarian measurements), which are not available widely.
- Moderna – similar to the Pfizer version, it is an mRNA vaccine. Moderna also reports >90% effectiveness and no safety signals. It also requires two doses, but it is easier to ship. It does not require super cold storage but still needs to be frozen or refrigerated.
- AstraZeneca – this COVID-19 vaccine is different than the ones from Moderna and Pfizer as it utilizes a non-replicating viral vector, a chemically weakened virus to transport pieces of the pathogen in order to stimulate an immune response. . They have also reported a >90% effectiveness (for one dosing strategy). Like the other two vaccines, the AstraZeneca version requires 2 doses, but it is more easily shipped and does not require low-temperature storage.
Pfizer and Moderna are asking the US FDA to review emergency use authorizations (EUA) for their COVID-19 vaccines, but AstraZeneca has yet to complete its clinical trials. AstraZeneca has received some serious criticisms of both their clinical trial design and results, so they may be a long way from getting its EUA or any other type of approval anywhere.
New: I just spoke with AstraZeneca executive Mene Pangalos about the criticism and questions the company is facing about its vaccine data, and they way the results were rolled out: https://t.co/94xkl1u5VK
— Rebecca Robbins (@RebeccaDRobbins) November 25, 2020
Why we should still wear masks?
- Even though Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca claim their COVID-19 vaccines are >90% effective, that is based on some very short-term numbers, maybe less than a few weeks. We still don’t know how long the immunity might last, whether it’s a few months or a few years, so it’s important to be careful with the virus by wearing a mask and keep social distancing until such time the experts tell us that we have real herd immunity.
- We don’t know how many people will get vaccinated. For example, in the USA, only about 58% of people will get the vaccine, which could be too low for herd immunity.
- It takes two doses, spaced over a few weeks, to get full immunity from the Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines. There will be some percentage of individuals who won’t get the second dose, and individuals are not immune before that second dose.
- This vaccine will not be widely available until sometime in the middle of next year. For the time being, at least in the United States, healthcare workers and those in long-term care facilities will be the first to get the vaccine. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) is working out a priority list from the first people to get it down to all of us regular people who might be last on the list. This will be the same across the world as the World Health Organization is developing a similar allocation priority list.
- Because of the storage demands of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, there could be a certain amount of spoilage where ineffective vaccines are given to individuals. This is a major concern outside of large cities that have healthcare facilities that have this kind of equipment.
- None of these phase 3 clinical trials have provided data as to whether the COVID-19 vaccines prevent asymptomatic transmission of the disease. So, if you may still transmit or contract the disease from some vaccinated individuals.
What doesn’t worry me?
- These aren’t the only vaccines that may be reaching the USA, EU (including the UK), Australia, Japan, Canada, and New Zealand over the next few weeks or months. There are vaccines from Novavax and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) that are also far into the phase 3 clinical trial process.
- I am very comfortable that Donald Trump or his fellow grifters are not being involved with the review process for these vaccines, especially now that he was crushed by Joe Biden in the election. The FDA has announced that the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC), made up of renowned vaccine scientists and experts, will review the data provided by the pharmaceutical companies for their various vaccine candidates.
- The CDC is preparing a campaign for the COVID-19 vaccines to push uptake to levels that could make the probability of higher herd immunity a much better probability.
- Masks work, so we should be committed to wearing them until one day Dr. Anthony Fauci proclaims “COVID-19 is gone.” It may be another 12 months, but we can protect ourselves and our families for that long.
Because there appears to be good science supporting the safety and effectiveness of these COVID-19 vaccines, I think we all should be prepared to get the vaccine as soon as it is available to us. That may take time, but I will be there to get it.
In the meantime, wear that mask, even after you have received the vaccine.
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